The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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From our all-time favorite corrections: the online bar mitzvah edition

December 2, 2010 |  4:21 pm

Hannuka We've begun celebrating Hanukkah in our household, which means that there's candle wax everywhere on the kitchen table, latkes on the stove and lots of good-natured bickering about the exact historical contours of the whole holiday. We had quite an argument raging last night about whether the Maccabees were fighting the Romans or the Syrians and whether the whole tale of a beautiful widow named Judith (whom I've dubbed Judith Krantz) lulling an evil general to sleep with drink and beheading him is any more believable than, well, the idea that Republicans are really holding out against raising taxes on the wealthy because all those rich folks are actually small business owners. 

To prepare for the holiday, I found myself reading all sorts of fun stories about Jewish traditions,  which led me to one of the great newspaper corrections in recent memory. In last Sunday's New York Times, Amy Virshup wrote a piece about bar mitzvah studies migrating to the Web, which managed to get one little thing wrong. As the correction reads: "An article last Sunday about online preparations for bar mitzvahs misstated the gender of the donkey that belonged to Balaam, a sorcerer in the Torah. It was a jenny, thus it was a female donkey." 

That's almost as good as the correction that ran in the Washington Post last year, which explained: "A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number."

As you can see, I follow this sort of stuff pretty religiously. We run all sorts of corrections here at the Times--I've certainly contributed my share. But one of my favorites dates back to the 1980s, when I was a young pop music writer at the paper. At the time, our classical music critic was Martin Bernheimer, who was a witty and erudite writer but famously imperious, especially with the peons on the copy desk. In Martin's world, he was a giant and the rest of us pygmies.

One week, in the usual mad scramble to put out the Sunday Calendar section, Martin's byline somehow ended up being dropped from a story he'd written. The following Sunday, the impish denizens of the copy desk got their revenge. A correction appeared in the Sunday paper, saying that the mysteriously unidentified article had actually been written "by our own Martin Bernheimer, whose byline fell off during production. No one was injured." 

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Rabbi Michoel Refson of Chabad, with Joel Marcovitch, director of Hillel at UGA, lighting a menorah during the first night of Hanukkah in Athens, Ga. Credit: Richard Hamm / Athens Banner-Herald/Associated Press